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Just Business

Just Business
© 2014 Jodi Lee, all rights reserved
Written for Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge
The Who, The Where, The Uh-oh

Thompson Gardens was never a place I expected to end up in.

I didn’t want to be there when I was 16 and my mom moved us in with her crappy, no-good boyfriend. I didn’t want to be there at 17 when they took off and left me alone with my little brother and sister. I didn’t want to be there when they finally graduated high school and went off to college on equality scholarships and government grants. I certainly didn’t want to be bringing my own child up in a 40-year-old tin can on wheels.

Just because you give it a name like Gardens, doesn’t mean that’s what it is. It’s the trailer park at the end of the last road in town. Head over the tracks, past the bar and the truck stop, hang a right and there you are.

Thompson Gardens, the last stop on your way out of Easthaven.

A year ago tonight, I came home just after midnight and felt something cold slide onto my neck as I got out of the truck. It was about a week after Jake’s first birthday, and he and Shelby were still down at her parent’s place. They weren’t due home for another day or so, so when I felt this, I was confused. I thought maybe she was home, that she’d slid a beer bottle against my neck to scare me.

When I reached up I felt wetness. Pulling my hand away, I saw blood. A blur of activity, and then…

And then I was above everything, and the lights and sirens were flashing.

Of the thirty trailers, fifteen were actually lived in, eight were maintained regularly and didn’t look so bad. The rest? Abandoned when their owners died and no one came to claim their shit. The old woman that lived three down from me died in December of ’06, and no one noticed until we all started to complain of the smell in May ’07. At least that trailer was moved off the site and now just the steps to nowhere stood on the empty lot.

I was lucky.

Momma left us here when I was 17 like I said; Georgie and Angel were 12 and 13. We don’t have the same dads. None of us do. Georgie’s dad was the best of the boyfriends; he spent money on all of us, treated us like gold, like his family. We even lived in his house for a long time. Then one day a woman shows up at the door, and Georgie answers it. She takes one look at him and starts bawling her face off.

She was Georgie’s step-mom… because his dad was married to her.

A week later, we were living with Grandma in Arizona. When she got tired of Momma’s bullshit, she kicked us all out, and we ended up as far away as the money could get us. Easthaven. One week in a motel, and wham. Into Thompson Gardens with a druggie asshole Momma hardly knew.

Fast-forward and we’re back to where I started this story. My name is Caleb Webber and I’m shop manager at a steel mill. Fancy way of saying I make sure maintenance gets done when it’s asked to get done. It’s my responsibility to keep these men safe, and I take that very seriously. I’ve been at the plant for fifteen years, ever since the day after Momma’s grocery money dried up and the rent needed to be paid. I’ve made sure my family had food and a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet. There wasn’t money for extras like saving for college or a second vehicle. We were broke when I started work, and we stayed that way until I got a managerial job. Even then, there was precious little extra.

The other feather in my cap? I managed to keep my siblings from falling into crime to get by. I made sure they had a better life than what we could have ended up with.

When Georgie went off to college eight years ago, I finally started dating again. Shelby and I have been together for seven of those years, and I only asked her to marry me two years ago, when she got pregnant with Jake. She said yes, but wanted to wait.

We’re still waiting.

I guess to be honest I’m still waiting. I imagine she’ll move on eventually, taking my son and the last reason for me to be here with her.

A year ago tonight, I came home just after midnight and felt something cold slide into my neck as I got out of the truck. At first I thought it was Shelby trying to scare me, even though I knew she was down at her mom and dad’s.

There was blood on my neck, and when I turned around, there was my neighbour and Shelby’s best friend, Paula the pretend psychic. I could tell it was her, even with the mask on; she’s got wild frizzy hair of a very unnatural shade of red. She held the knife in her hand, and she stood there, staring at me. Waiting for me to fall. I stumbled forward, then to my knees. As I slumped to the ground, I watched her wipe the blood from the knife onto a little doll. She leaned over me, a tiny jar in her hand. She was actually catching blood as it pulsed out of my neck!

“Gee, I am sorry Cal. It’s just business,” she whispered, before she walked away.

And then I was above everything, and the lights and sirens were flashing.

One year and one week ago, I was celebrating my son’s first birthday. He’d just learned to say “da-ee” after two months of saying “mum.” I couldn’t leave him. I couldn’t leave Shelby.

And so – as my blood soaked into the gravel of the road, as I watched Paula walk away with the knife in her hand, as I died – I made a decision. I was not going to leave them. I stayed.

Just because they take your body away, doesn’t mean you can’t have a normal life.

Every morning, I go to the mill, and supervise as the guys go about their job orders. Every night, I head home and watch Shelby and Jake eat dinner, play a little, maybe try to help as Shelby gives him his bath and tucks him in. I try to comfort her when she cries. I think of ways to show her I’m still with her. Nothing seems to work though, no matter how many times I try. I try to knock things over, I write on the mirror when she’s in the shower.

“Paula shot me. I love you. I’m here.”

She never saw them.

Paula comes over for coffee quite a lot. She and Shelby are getting quite close, and it’s driving me crazy. The woman that killed me – business, she said – is making time with my woman.

Not tonight, though. Tonight, there was something else in Shelby’s eyes.

Paula made her way across the trailer park in a torrential downpour, and arrived about an hour after Jake went to bed. She never seemed to be there when Jake was awake… I’d like to think she felt a bit guilty for taking the boy’s father away from him. Shelby was too friendly, tonight; too many smiles, too many laughs. Something was up. I was sure of it.

She passed Paula a coffee mug and they gossiped for a few moments about the woman that moved in down the road, the one they were sure was a hooker. “You’re gonna wanna watch her around your Jake, Shelby. Women like that, they could do anything.”

Women like that? Who the hell is she trying to kid? Oh, wait….

“Oh, Paula, she’s just trying to get by, like the rest of us. If Caleb hadn’t owned this place and had such good insurance, we’d be in a bad place, too. Probably with my parents.”

They laughed, but Shelby’s smile didn’t reach her eyes. Paula’s smile shifted a little, then a lot, until it became a horrifying grimace. She started to breathe funny and her face turned bright red. Her whole body jerked, the empty coffee mug dropping and shattering on the floor. Shelby didn’t move a muscle, even though Paula grabbed at her.

“I’m sorry, Paula. It’s just business,” Shelby stated, dead pan. Reaching into her jeans pocket, she pulled out a bottle of Belladonna, waving it front of the dying psychic. Paula knew then, I could see it on her face. It would be the last thing she knew, though, before her spirit flipped out of her body and came to a stop by me.

“Shit,” she squeaked. Her spirit didn’t hang around. A vortex opened up, and whoosh – into it she went. I have a feeling it was a very, very warm place she was headed to.

“Just business, Paula. Just business.”

Shelby reached for the phone and called 911, then set the receiver down. “I know you’re here Caleb. I got your note… it’s just taken me a long time to figure out the right dosage to kill the bitch. Did you know that she’s got a heart condition? They’ll never even look, they’ll just assume it was her heart.”

She poured the remaining Belladonna down the sink, running the water for five minutes afterwards. Finally, hearing the sirens, she turned back from the sink and looked right at me. Could she see me? Probably not.

“I hope you can rest now, my love. We’ll be okay. Georgie and Angel are coming to help us move into the city, closer to them and my parents. We’ll be fine. I love you.”

I love you, too.